The STS-8 mission was the third flight for the Challenger and the first mission with a night launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and a night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California. This mission was the first flight for Dr. Thornton as well as the first flight for Dr. Guion S. Bluford, Jr., the first African-American astronaut to fly in space. The mission launched on August 30 and landed on September 5, 1983. The crew consisted of Commander Richard H. Truly, Pilot Daniel C. Brandenstein, and Mission Specialists Dr. Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Dale A. Gardner, and Dr. Thornton.

During the flight Dr. Thornton investigated the human body's response to weightlessness. He concentrated primarily on the nervous system and on the possible causes and effects of "space sickness" (space adaptation syndrome). Dr. Thornton developed some of the equipment that was used in this research.

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